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14 Mistakes Indian Freelancers Make That Can Break Them

My blog has always been a steady source of client work for me but then I have been using sites like Elance (now Upwork) for clients as well and for last year or so I am also using Elance for hiring new talents for my own needs as well.

When I posted my requirements on Elance for hiring people, I saw a lot of proposals that I just can be rejected straight away because they had some common issues. Let me just share some of the common mistakes that freelancers make so you don’t repeat the same.

1. Incomplete profile

First thing first and you should always complete your profile on a site that you want to pursue for any kind of work. Be it freelancing sites like Elance or be social networking site like LinkedIn.

Incomplete profile never helps and it will be not be of much help to you if you just don’t complete it and start in a hurry to apply for a job.

It can be quite enticing to apply for a job that you think you are the best fit for it but then doing it the right way is important.

As an example, if you applied for a job where your profile does not have your profile picture, it is quite unlikely that you may be hired. In this digital world, picture speaks more than thousand words. If you just don’t have a profile picture, people are not confident if they are speaking to a human or just a robot.

2. Copy Paste Applications

How many times I see this. I see people just apply for every job with the same proposal that they have. Just copy and paste.

I was looking for an editor for my site www.mathstips.com. I was very clear in my requirements to send me samples of articles they have written in the past. I saw very few people replying with samples or at least mentioning anything about what I have asked for. They just saw a job in writing category and pasted the same proposal they had prepared for that particular category.

If you don’t take time to read what someone is looking for, why would the other person read what you have written in your proposal. Tit for tat.

3. Unprofessional profile pictures

I have seen company logo as profile pictures of individuals. It can be acceptable for companies but for individuals it is a crime. Even for large companies, it should be the team leader or project managers individuality that should be the profile.

Take a very simple example. Someone wanted to hire your company but before that they wanted to discuss some requirements over a phone call. Will you give him your direct number or your company’s number where it will ask him few automated questions before reaching your personal desk?

Apart from that I see photos of people that aren’t very formal. If you are on a job site applying for work, you should make things more professional and make it look formal. The outfit you are wearing reflects your character, and so does your hair.

4. Lack of Negotiation Skills

There are those who are even ready to work for free and still don’t get hired because it is not the price but the value you add.

You can negotiate a higher price and still can provide value, you can get paid higher. On top of it, they will not only be more than happy to hire you again and again but will be thankful that you are working for them.

5. Missing Deadlines

You cannot miss deadlines. Period. If you ask me what is the one reason you have done so well as an individual on sites like Elance is, I never missed a deadline. I know my capabilities and I try to keep myself light on client work so I never miss a deadline.

I take up fewer jobs but always meet a deadline. It has allowed me to increase my rates on a consistent basis as well as has stopped hunch for new clients all the time.

Elance has possibly stopped adding new projects and everything has moved to Upwork but I have not applied for many jobs on Upwork for a simple reason that I don’t want to be taking more clients than what I currently have.

I have a couple of long term clients and that is enough for me.

6. Work without contract

I see a lot of freelancers want to be working outside of the freelancing site and I am lot different here. I prefer to be working for my clients through freelancing sites. I know they take a cut, but then it is not about what they are taking from you but how confident you are making your client.

It is always clients who asks for my PayPal account and I don’t prefer telling them that you can pay me through PayPal as well. As long as they are fine paying me through Freelancing site, I am ok with it because my price on freelancing site includes the extra fee they are charging me.

7. Lack of communication

I see a lot of freelancers lack communication discipline. I had a lot of issues with such freelancers where they took the task and then they were either very slow in response or not as fast as they have been. I normally expect a turn around time of 24 hours or less on weekdays and if you don’t work on weekends I accept a response on Monday morning.

Normally the lack of communication happens mostly with companies and not individuals. If you have taken up a task but the person who would be doing the job is not available anymore, you cannot make it up by delaying the job. Being more transparent may help by letting the client know that this job is not doable anymore for so and so reason.

8. Only considering the price

Everyone thinks freelancing site is all about being price competitive and its completely wrong. Such myths have been floated by various bloggers and in lots of forums. It happens to people where they may need to work for dirt cheap and it does not mean there is a flaw in working on such sites but because they don’t have negotiating skills.

I have been a freelancer as well as an employer on freelancing sites with over 60k worth of work delivered only on Elance and with over 6k worth of talent purchased Elance (remember this is over and above what I get it done locally) and still I don’t see I have been hired only when price I priced my services as lowest nor I hired the person quoting the cheapest price for my job.

The hiring process is not sort by price and hire the one at the top of the list. It is all about seeing what people offer at what price and if at all you can do the job for me.

Anyone would hire the person who offers the same quality at a cheaper price. Thats part of globalization.

9. Over committing under delivering

You should be under committing and over delivering but people at times commit lot more than what they deliver.

A simple example that I have seen quite often is people always commit that they will deliver a great documentation of what they have done with their code. If you commit, I expect a thorough documentation, of the code. As the project progresses documentation takes a backseat and ultimately it is never delivered on its own. When asked about it the answer is “being prepared”. Finally it is a few paragraphs just put together for the sake of it. If you did not promise a documentation and if I see the exact same document, I may be surprised and impressed.

10. Saying yes to almost everything

I have posted quite a few jobs and have tried quite a few freelancers and I see the same freelancers apply for various kind of jobs and they are ready to take up almost anything being offered.

Yes it is always good to learn new things but then it is not about saying YES to everything. You cannot be a doctor and an engineer at the same time. You have to say NO to one of them to be better at the other. Similarly say NO to something that you think you may not be able to deliver the best.

11. Unjustifiable pricing

Propose an amount to a task which should be justifiable on your hourly rate as well. I have seen people quote $100 and even mention that it will take a few hours to do the job. When I look at their hourly rate, it is close to $10 or $15.

So I ask them why such a discrepancy in pricing and they justify that they will do research and other such extra efforts which they did not include when proposing the hours but is included in the price.

I also propose a similar pricing but that is within the justifiable limit.

I never price it like 10 times the price for me on an hourly to fixed price but at times it is not inline to my hourly cost. Let’s say I propose an amount that is not justifiable on a per hour basis. If a client asks me the difference in the price of the job to per hour rate. My answer is, I take up jobs that are a minimum of X amount or at least x hours. It always works for me.

If you propose an unjustifiable price for a fixed price job over your hourly rate, it can look quite unprofessional and sounds like you are here to make quick bucks.

12. Unjustifiable reasons

Accidents are quite common in India. At least that is what every client who has hired Indians think. At times people ask me have you met with a road accident. I was bit surprised initially but when I found that they were asking me such question because they have hired quite a few Indian freelancer and all have had road accidents just too often. Possibly way to buy time to get the job done somewhere.

When I hired few people I also found that there are too many such reasons for delay in job. When I was hiring aggresively, I started not to believe even if someone said there is a death in their family.

13. Freelancer don’t have a blog

Believe me, most of the freelancers don’t have a blog of their own. They have their company website but not a blog and I don’t understand a reason of not having a blog.

If you are a writer and don’t have a blog there is no reason that can justify it.

As a developer, you will always come up with an issue that you wasted hours to find a solution. It can always be on your blog for your reference as well helping others and to showcase it to your future clients.

If you are a designer, you can always release some of your designs on your blog just for the showcasing.

Not having a blog means you are closing the doors on your clients who search in Google for similar issues and can approach you directly instead of you trying to find them.

I have found so many of my long term clients from my blog.

As a freelancer, you are more likely to have a domain and hosting. So a blog does not cost you anything extra and just keeping it updated allows you for numerous opportinities that you cannot afford to go begging.

Apart from opportunities that a blog can provide, it can also help improve your communication skills. If you are writing for your blog, it can improve you as a writer which can help you write better response (in email or otherwise) to your clients.

14. Lack of motivation

To be working without some pressure on you is a daunting task and you cannot just continue working for money for ever and so you have to be motivated to be working for yourself and being able to develop your own skills.

You work and get paid for it but this cycle means the more you work, the more you get paid but after certain time, when you are not in need of money, you may not be motivated to work if money was the driving force for you to be freelancer. This is when you need to be motivated from within.

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  • Utpal Baruah

    Hello Shabbir,

    I provide BPO services through Upwork. Do you think a blog can really help me in attracting new customers?

    • @utpal_baruah:disqus, do you think it can harm your BPO services business that you do through Upwork?

      Now once your answer is NO, the success of your blog will depend on how well you can write on the topic that your potential clients are searching for in Google.

      • Utpal Baruah

        @shabbirbhimani:disqus May be I haven’t explained it clearly. Here are the reason’s why I don’t have a blog.
        1. I am not a content writer and hence in order to write regularly, I need to hire a content writer to create a reasonably good blog.
        2. Need to work on SEO to ensure that the blog actually reaches at least some of the intended audiences.
        3. Work on social media promotions

        All these and then hope that I get some benefits out of it. While I am not against maintaining blogs my experience is instead of spending efforts on a blog I have got better results by concentrating more on maintaining my relations with my existing clients and putting up more effort in Upwork to win new clients.

        May be with scale, I will need a blog in future.

        • @utpal_baruah:disqus, Michael Gerber in his book The E-Myth Revisited coined term called working on the business as opposed to working in the business. What you are doing is working in the business and ultimately you have to move above the business and start working on the business as well.

          Blogging is something which will help you diversify the source of clients and it will help you evolve as a business.

          What happens when you have issues in upwork? I have constant source of clients from Elance but then I had no issues when Elance is closed. Many freelancers and they are out of business because of Elance.

          The expenses and the efforts needed can be justified if you can work out a plan instead of just moving in the flow.

          Try to get a diversified source of clients.

  • Salm


    I have three options to receive payments from my client in Singapore:

    – Western Union Transfer.
    – Paypal
    – MoneyBookers

    I am familiar with Paypal as I used many times before. But they take up to 7.2% cut towards Paypal fee+conversion charge+ other charges and that is quite a large amount!!

    I need your opinion about Western Union Transfer. Money bookers services is not good as well as I noticed that they do not have any local support numbers.

    What is your experience with Western Union Money Transfer? How much Western Union charge for every 1000 dollar receive from a client overseas? Does it come to more than 5% when the money get credited into indian bank in INR?

    Look forward to your response soon..


    • Salm,

      Western Union cannot be used for business payments and you can only receive personal payments. On top of it there are restrictions on the number of payments you can receive in an year. As far as I remember the limit is 12.

      So western union is not a good choice of payment when it comes to doing freelancing. If your client insists, you can always go with it.

      Yes the Fx rate of Western union is quite good. You can use XOOM or the one that I use which is Transferwise ( Aff liink – http://imtips.co/transferwise just in case you want to use my aff link ) which has better exchange rates as well as very fast payment and you can use it for your business payments as well. You can ask your regular clients to be using Transferwise instead of Western Union.

      Hope it helps Salm.

      • Salm

        Shabir, Thanks for your response.

        Unfortunately, this client is a corporate so their payment modes are restricted to the three modes I mentioned: Paypal, Western Union and money bookers.

        I need to choose one of the only three options. How much is Western Union charge for every 1000 USD that I receive to my bank account in India? I use this account only to receive payments (salary)

        • Not sure if you can accept business payments in WU but if you can, it has quite a good Fx rates for sure. Charges are quite low as well compared to PayPal or even moneybookers now known as skrill.

  • vinodh

    Most (95%) of the freelancers and development companies do not have blog. even it its there I see that it was updated 4 years back or its a blatant promotion of their services . particularly small development companies do this self praise in blog. they do not post anything like the one you mentioned. ie solving a useful problem. many freelancers do not have motivation to update a blog. mainly they do not know the topic to write about. point 13 and 14 are very much true.
    As you say a blog is a lead generation machine. I am a java developer who learnt online marketing recently. When I had my first website I posted a java development problem faced by me at my workplace. It was keystore related. I did not promote this website actively as I was not aware of promotion techniques. few weeks after posting my first blog post I had inquiry for my services for a problem faced by a small company in usa . they had a tomcat problem. They were a non IT company with no inhouse developer. There was some version mismatch in java mail archive in their website made by some java developer earlier. I fixed it and got usd 50. that was the easiest money I earned in 10 minutes.

    • Exactly Vinod. This is the best thing that could happen. You will not only make such easy money but you can get a job (if you are looking for) or can be a good land up on a good long term client as well.

      Thanks for sharing your experience here.

  • Abraham Joseph

    Dear Shabbir, I enjoy your articles. Now I am 78+ years and
    thereore it takes time to read and digest your articles. Please
    continue your service.
    Abraham Joseph

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